Looking beyond Smart Label 1.0

by Keith Nunes
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Smart Label is designed to provide consumers with information about the ingredients and nutrition content in finished products.

WASHINGTON — Several industry executives said they view the new Smart Label digital platform developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association as a springboard to better communicating with consumers and informing them about the sourcing guidelines and processing technologies that go into the manufacture of food and beverage products. Unveiled this past December, the basic platform is designed to provide consumers with information about the ingredients and nutrition content in finished products.

Jim Flannery, senior executive vice-president of operations and industry affairs for the G.M.A.

“The consumer has a growing thirst for knowledge and we as an industry must find a way to provide it,” said Jim Flannery, senior executive vice-president of operations and industry affairs for the G.M.A., during the group’s Science Forum, taking place this week in Washington. “Smart Label delivers in both cases.”

Chris Policinski, president and chief executive officer of Land O’ Lakes, Inc., Arden Hills, Minn., sees the digital platform as a tool to better communicate with his company’s customer base.

Chris Policinski, president and c.e.o. of Land O’ Lakes

“We think it’s fantastic consumers want to know where their food comes from,” he said. “Our strategy is to proactively tell that story.”

Mr. Policinski called the brief messaging on many food and beverage product labels “inauthentic transparency” and added, “if we are interested in authentic transparency we have to have a dialogue” with consumers. “This is an alternative.”

He added that the platform allows “brand holders” to do what they do well — tell stories.

“The consumer can click and view the ingredients in a product,” Mr. Policinski said. “With an additional click through they can go to the brand page and see how we source milk, for example, and how we use it.”

As with any new venture, cost is a concern that was raised by the audience during the session about transparency at the Science Forum, but David Darragh, president and c.e.o. of the Reily Foods Co., New Orleans, said he did not view cost as an issue.

David Darragh, president and c.e.o. of the Reily Foods Co

“There will be updating and costs associated, but we are updating packaging regularly,” he said. “I would argue Smart Label will mean we will update less. Today, it may be G.M.O.s, but let’s face it, it will be something else in the future.”

Mark Baum, industry relations and chief collaboration officer for the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, said Smart Label is not a panacea for restoring trust across the industry.

Mark Baum, industry relations and chief collaboration officer for the Food Marketing Institute

“Smart Label gets you in the mode of communicating with consumers,” he said. “It’s a very important step in establishing trust with consumers.”

The challenge for some companies considering using the digital platform has been how to get started.

“How are we going to do this?” Mr. Policinski said. “Like you eat an elephant — one bite at a time. We don’t view this as incremental work. This is information we are collecting or should be collecting.”

Mr. Darragh added, “I want to remind everyone this is a journey. This goes back to the ‘90s when Nutrition Facts panels were new. With G.M.A.’s leadership we have Facts Up Front. And now we have Smart Label, which allows us to tell our whole brand stories at the click of a button or scan of a Q.R. (quick reader) code.”

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